Between 2007 and 2011, the scene in New Orleans got a new kind of weird. Before the days of every show seemingly featuring a popular Loyola indie band, the Dragon’s Den, Banks Street Bar, and new venues like them were harboring a different kind of talent: instrumental math rock. Some might remember the staples such as Man Plus Building ( from Baton Rouge), Smiley With A Knife, or I, Octopus. Some are still trudging through today, such as Metronome The City and High In One Eye. One band that seemed so different and destined for success was A Living Soundtrack. They weren’t so much a math rock band, though they played shows with mostly those types of bands. ALS had more of a Tortoise vibe; their layers of samples and loops created harmonies that a vocalist would only get in the way of.
The band had four members in its inception: Nick Lauve on bass, who initially programmed a lot of samples for the band but left shortly after their first EP release; Marshall Flaig on drums and MIDI percussion; Jenn Aguiluz on keyboards; and Matt Aguiluz on keyboards and trumpet. In 2011, they released How To Grow A City, which should’ve put them in the spotlight. It contained fresh sounds and unique concepts, blending minimal and angular compositions alike. Using Ableton Live, they were able to also sync more melodic samples with their compositions, as well as sync visual projections to the actual flow of their sets. The band easily became a crowd favorite. However, as soon as ALS released their record, they vanished. It’s oddly cerebral—almost dreamlike—when I think about that night at The Blue Nile upstairs in June 2011. I remember seeing so many people there from old bands and shows. It was dark, save for the colors from the projector flashing around all night, creating a visual lullaby. But soon after the album’s release, spouses Matt and Jenn moved to Japan to teach English.
It was an awkward move to say the least. They were gone for almost five years, and the band’s momentum disappeared with them. About eight months ago, I heard through the grapevine that they had returned. I was surprised and relieved, but the only thing I could think about was when the next ALS show would be (soon, it turns out). Matt and I had a chance to chat recently and we discussed leaving New Orleans, his and Jenn’s journeys and trials abroad, and plans for the future.
How To Grow A City was one of the best records of 2011. I know that there was a lot of hard work behind it. Explain the process of the album and what the goals were behind it.
Matt Aguiluz: First of all, thank you for saying that and for being interested in this five years later. That record was kind of an uphill battle—as most records are—but in the end we feel good about it. Of course, there are always things you want to go back and tweak endlessly, and after five years away from it and a lot more experience in audio production, composing, etc., we hope that we can take those lessons into making the next one. So total, I think it took us about two years or so to finish. We did pre-production at our practice space, stemming out all of the backing tracks for reference, then tracking at the Living Room Studio with Chris George and Daniel Majorie. After that, we re-sequenced all of the electronics and added layering at Nick Lauve’s house, and got the mixes about halfway there. Then I brought the rest to Rick G. Nelson (now my co-worker and owner of Marigny Recording Studio), and we finished mixing and a few last minute overdubs at his studio. It was a grind and very difficult to keep a realistic perspective when a record takes that long to make, but it was a huge learning experience for everyone involved. As far as goals are concerned, we just wanted to finish and document what we were doing before we left for Japan. There were no commercial or professional aspirations behind the making of the record. As we get older, we’re sort of changing our tune on that and the idea is that this next paradigm of the band will be more aligned with getting out there and making a name for ourselves.
Was it always part of the plan to move to Japan after the record?
We kind of knew that in the grand scheme of the life of the band, it didn’t really make sense for us to put out a record and then leave town, but Jenn and I always knew we would live somewhere in Asia for an extended time. At some point when you start looking at raising a family and settling down, the clock starts ticking and your window for doing something like that gets smaller and smaller. So in short, it was kind of the only time we could do it at that point in our lives with everything else we had planned. We had told Nick and Marshall about it maybe two years in advance, so it was always kind of looming over all of the decisions we made as a band.
What did the other band members have to say about the decision? Were they part of it?
The decision definitely made things tricky for us as a band. I think at that point, Nick was having doubts about going on hiatus for a few years and then jumping back in, so he decided that he would start to phase himself out in the best way possible. It was tough for all of us as friends, because the band had been extremely democratic up until that point, and we all knew that the decision that Jenn and I made was first and foremost a decision about our relationship as a couple. I don’t want to speak for Marshall and Nick, but at that point, as much as we wanted it to be, things couldn’t be democratic in that situation. So we played for a while and made the best of it, with a few expected bumps along the way. We’re all just grateful now that we got through it and still all remain good friends. to take it for granted if you don’t get some distance from it. And this was exactly what the two of us needed and we feel better off for doing it.
Without ALS around, how did Nick and Marshall spend the hiatus?
When we were in Japan, Nick and Marshall ended up keeping the practice space and playing with a few different friends at the time. Through a couple different lineups, Marshall eventually ended up playing with our good friend Max Binet of Raspy Meow. Definitely check them out if you haven’t yet. Very tight stuff. And they now perform as a duo around town. When ALS is ready for shows again, we want to try to further develop a scene with Max and a few others out there, including Anthony Cuccia’s amazing set as the Night Janitor.
Was it hard to leave the band and New Orleans?
It was definitely tough to leave the band. These were our best friends who we made music with. It’s akin to leaving a church that you’ve been in for years and years with your friends, who’ve become your extended family. We’re not religious in the traditional sense, so making music is our spiritual outlet. When you share that with some of your closest people, it’s really tough to go away from that even for a short while. As for New Orleans, it was actually good for us to leave at the time. I grew up here and Jenn’s been here for 15 years now. We really love it here and it feels right to be back setting down roots. But for us, it was really important to see other parts of the world and how things are done in other places. As beautiful and cathartic as living in New Orleans can be, you can start to take it for granted if you don’t get some distance from it. And this was exactly what the two of us needed and we feel better off for doing it.
What are some things that stuck out about the experience overseas? What did you do?
Well, we lived in Osaka for two years, which is very similar to New Orleans in terms of people and mindset: lots of drinking and food and entertainment. The people there are pretty awesome and old school in ways that are very different from the rest of Japan. That region of Japan (the Kansai region) is surrounded by culture and nature, with Kyoto and Kobe about 45 minutes away by train, and Koyasan—the oldest/biggest Zen Buddhist cemetery in Japan, set in the mountains within a cedar forest—nearby. If you google that area, there is so much to see and do that you can’t experience anywhere else in the world. I could go on and on about it.
After your teaching, you did some traveling elsewhere. What did those experiences bring you as you returned home?
After leaving Japan, we had planned a trip starting in North Vietnam, taking trains through the country until we got to Saigon in the south, then bussing it over to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and on to Thailand for a total of three months. We got to about a month and a half, when on the way to Thailand from Siem Reap we got into a terrible bus accident and were in the hospital for about a month and a half in Bangkok. It was definitely the worst and most profound experience we’d ever had. Two people in our bus died, and a few others were in comas by the time we left. I had to have emergency surgery for a ruptured intestine, and Jenn fractured one of her vertebrae. By the end, being able to walk away from it was something we never expected and try to remember every day how lucky we are. I don’t want to lay it on too thick, but that’s the short of it. Overall, we had an overwhelmingly positive experience (even through the last bit) and still recommend seeing that part of the world if you ever get the opportunity.
Now that you are home, is the band back together? What are some plans for the future?
Well, the plan is now for Marshall and I to start playing as a duo. We’ve been reformatting our live set for that and are making everything more sample-oriented. We’ve been working with Sarah Quintana on some tracks and will hopefully have options for vocal accompaniment in the future. She is super awesome at what she does and we’ve been friends for years, so it just seemed like a great fit. Lots of moving parts, but they’re all coming together slowly. We’re pretty psyched about everything. We have almost an entirely new set as well.
I hear the ALS family has a new addition. Congratulations on fatherhood! Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience and how it has translated into your musical endeavor?
[Laughs] Man, I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s impossible for it not to be connected to music, for sure. Most of the clichés we’ve heard about having a kid are true. When I have time to write, it’s definitely got a different feel to it, though. It’s tough to explain without sounding like an idiot. But little Felix is pretty great to have around. It’s so lame now to be the guy who shows everyone pictures of him, regardless of whether or not they want to see. But what can you do?
A Living Soundtrack will be at Siberia on Saturday, January 23rd opening for Caddywhompus. For more info, check out alivingsoundtrack.wordpress.com